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By Rep. Emanuel Cleaver
Finally, a farm bill! This is a leading line that says so much here in Missouri’s Fifth District. And it says a lot in Washington, as well, where I was honored to speak at the Missouri Farm Bureau Breakfast. Of course, the farm bill is really a food bill, and is not only about farm programs, but also about feeding America.
The farm bill passed in February, and while I would have liked to have seen that happen sooner, our democracy was built on compromise. And compromise, as we all know, can be a painstaking process at times. I am pleased my colleagues and I were able to find agreement, even if it came a little later than you and I would have preferred.
The Missouri Farm Bureau breakfast gave us an opportunity to speak in depth about several issues within the bill, including the greater commitment to programs that help farmers and ranchers who are just getting into the business.
A start-up in any business is difficult, but especially so when it comes to farming and agriculture. We must also address a big challenge facing us as a nation, which is the population shift in our rural areas. We have an aging rural population, and many young people are moving out of rural communities where they have grown up, and into suburban and urban areas.
In fact, in the last two years, more than half of all rural counties have seen their populations decline. Rural America accounts for almost 75 percent of the land area in this country, but has only 16 percent of the nation’s population. That is the lowest in our history. However, some of the reasons for the shift have been very beneficial to us. Our agricultural practices have changed dramatically in the last 100 years. Increased technology and practices, including better tractors, GPS, seed varieties, conservation measures and pesticides, has decreased the number of people needed to work the farm.
We do have fewer farmers, but the level of farm output has doubled over the last five decades. Regardless of these technological advances, the reality is that our rural population is aging. Nearly half of our farmers are 55 years or older, and about a third of them are over the age of 65.
We need to encourage young people to get interested in farming, and promote policies that help them along that path, rather than making it more difficult. Part of that is getting kids, urban and rural, interested in science and agriculture at a young age.
There is a natural symbiosis between urban and rural areas, and yet many kids today don’t know where their food comes from. Part of the solution is connecting kids with food and farmers. I believe the USDA is on the right track with its “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” programs, and their efforts to increase access to local and regional foods. This is being done in the schools, as well.
I want us to continue to work together, those of us in Congress, and those of us here in Missouri’s Fifth District. About a year ago, the Department of Labor was considering stricter regulation of children working on farms. I shared the opinions you expressed to me through your comments and phone calls, and thankfully, we saw success in this area.
Many of you have asked me the fate of Section 179 in the tax code. This section allows small business to deduct up to $500,000 of the cost of qualified business property. The deduction was extended last year, but this year was dropped to $25,000. In the House, tax reform is not likely this year, so we must work together again, and encourage Congressional leaders to support an extenders package sometime in the next few months.
We all must understand the symbiotic relationship we have with each other, our food, and our future.
Congressman Cleaver represents Missouri’s Fifth District, including Ray County.